This article describes the increasingly common phenomenon of prolonged mechanical ventilation in the context of the transition between the acute care hospital and post-acute care. Prolonged mechanical ventilation or chronic critical illness is associated with hospital mortality in the range of 20 to 40%, with median hospital length of stay ranging from 14 to 60 days. Fewer than 10% of patients are discharged home, and most hospital survivors require institutionalized post-acute care in the form of long-term acute care, skilled nursing facilities, or inpatient rehabilitation. Acute hospital readmission is common. Because of prolonged functional disabilities and multiple underlying comorbid conditions, overall 1 year mortality for prolonged mechanical ventilation patients ranges from 50 to 60%. Survivors experience significant functional limitations. The prolonged institutional care and poor long-term outcomes of these patients bring into question the cost-effectiveness of prolonged mechanical ventilation after acute illness, especially for patients with poor long-term prognoses. New measures to facilitate assessments of long-term prognosis and improve communication with surrogate decision makers may reduce the amount of ineffective care for some patients requiring prolonged mechanical ventilation.
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